HUMBOLDT PARK — The popular Puerto Rican festival and parade are returning with in-person celebrations — but for the first time in years, they’ll be on different weekends.
The festival and the parade typically are held during Father’s Day weekend. The parade will be June 19, but festival organizers have opted to celebrate Sept. 23-26.
Unlike last year’s parade, which was a virtual event, this year will have floats, music, appearances from groups like the Latin Motorcycle Association and countless Puerto Rican flags. It will be “just like the parades we’ve had in the past: music, dancing, joy and flags and flags,” said Xiomara Rodriguez, of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, which is organizing the celebration.
Now in its 43rd year, the parade will honor the 50th anniversary of the neighborhood’s oldest Puerto Rican mural at North and Artesian avenues and the 40th anniversary of Juan Antonio Corretjer’s poem, “Boricua en la Luna.”
“The Puerto Rican parade has always been a moment to honor our ancestry and our resilience and our fight against being pushed out, against colonialism, against police brutality,” Rodriguez said. “This parade is really going to be a celebration of our resiliency and a moment to reflect on the way we have come out of the pandemic to celebrate our joy as a radical act of resistance.”
Meanwhile, the group behind the festival is gearing up for a September celebration that will look and feel a lot like the 2019 event, the year the group took the reins.
Many of the details for September are still being finalized, but it will feature live music, dancing and traditional Puerto Rican food, along with educational and employment opportunities such as a job fair and workshops for children, said Carlos Jimenez, executive director for the Daniel Ramos Puerto Rican Festival Committee.
The group replaced the Puerto Rican Parade Committee, which was officially ousted last spring after years of controversy and financial mismanagement that ended in bankruptcy and an Illinois Attorney General investigation into missing ticket money.
The Daniel Ramos Puerto Rican Festival Committee hopes to build on the success of the 2019 festival and further distance themselves from the embattled group, Jimenez said.
“When we took over, we had no money [and] it was very hard to raise money and get sponsorships because of the history of the festival,” he said. “Our first year out, we proved we’re different. … Hopefully, this year, they can see we’re for real. This is different. Those days are over.”
Jimenez said his group moved the festival to September because they thought city festivals had to be scheduled after July 4 under the city’s reopening plan. But festivals are allowed now, and Chicago will fully reopen June 11 without capacity limits.
The group chose the September weekend for the festival to commemorate El Grito de Lares, the largest revolt against Spanish rule in Puerto Rico’s history on Sept. 23, 1868.
“We felt that if we’re going to do something in September, we knew we couldn’t do it during Labor Day weekend. We looked at the calendar, we were like, ‘Wait a minute, El Grito de Lares is on the 23rd.’ It just made sense. It was like serendipitous,” Jimenez said.
The live music lineup at this year’s festival will be dedicated to Marcelino Ramos, a longtime Chicago music promoter who died of COVID-19 last summer, Jimenez said.
“He made a big impact on the music scene in Chicago, and he’ll never be forgotten,” he said.
Last year’s Puerto Rican festival was canceled entirely, but many people took to the Division Street stretch known as “Paseo Boricua,” the heart of the neighborhood’s Puerto Rican community, for unofficial caravan celebrations.
The festival and parade organizers said they’re thrilled to host joyous summer events again after a year of loss and hardship, particularly in Chicago’s Latino neighborhoods.
“It feels really, really emotional,” Rodriguez said. “It’s heartbreaking to think about all of the folks who are not here to celebrate with us because of the pandemic. We lost a lot of our elders. It’s really sad to see that. It’s sad to see the folks who … have been pushed out within the last year because of the financial hardship [during] the pandemic and hyper gentrification. At the same time, it is a moment of pride that we are still here.
“There’s a vibrancy and resiliency to the Puerto Rican community in Humboldt Park and on Paseo Boricua. It’s really emotional, all in all.”
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